Legendary Israeli melodic punk rockers Useless ID recently re-issued their Bad Story, Happy Ending on SBAM Records, so I spoke with Yotam Ben Horin about the particular album, plans for the future, and some other stuff along the way. Enjoy!
First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. How have you been?
Yotam: I’ve been good thank you, a lot of traveling, slowly getting back to playing real live shows after the longest time so I’m excited!
What are you and the rest of Useless ID up to lately?
Yotam: Last year, after we gave in the two new tracks for our “Most Useless Songs” best of for FAT, I thought why stop here? The world is the craziest it’s ever been, I’m sure there’s a lot to write about so I started writing for a follow up album to “State Is Burning”. Besides that ,I have a new solo record coming out soon, my other band SPIT recorded an EP and I’ve produced a few records remotely (KRANG and The Last Gang are two of them) so I’ve been musically busy. Ishay has been producing too and releasing new music in Hebrew, Corey is busy with his bands and Guy has been in Costa Rica learning to surf after rebuilding his home that burned down right before Covid happened. So, it seems that music is there for us once again during these times.
With restrictions slightly loosening, a lot of bands are returning to normal activities. The bands are getting used to a new normal, rehearsing in practice rooms, recording in studios, playing live shows, and some even did some touring under slightly different conditions. How have things been for you guys lately?
Yotam: I’ve gotten really good at doing Facebook and Instagram lives, I have this whole system I put together running simultaneously only to send this video and sound to the rest of the world, in the beginning it was therapeutic for me to play for people via phone and then to keep it interesting I started adding reverbs and running it through two mics and different softwares. With Useless ID last year, we got together to record a few songs but normally we don’t rehearse much. what happens is Corey and I rehearse when I’m in Israel cause I’m constantly traveling, what we do is weed out the songs that don’t feel like they could work and I either have a demo for the song before or I make the demo after we tried the tune. Ishay and Corey have been playing lots of shows in Israel with their other bands but overall for Useless ID we are less into hitting the road at the moment and more into having a new album once we do, we have some tours planned for the summer so who knows.
A lot of bands have been affected by the pandemic. Some of them called it quits, some of them just paused all the activities, while some dedicated free time to write, compose, record new material. How has Covid affected your band activities and personal lives?
Yotam: As I mentioned earlier, I was kind of writing the next record before Covid happened and then I couldn’t focus on music for the first few months at all. Just play live remotely for people. The songs we did have we chose for exclusives on our best of album and then I started from scratch. When the world started opening up around February 2021, I decided to record my solo album in the States which I had enough songs for and the SPIT ep as well so it kind of picked up from there. As far as personal lives, my fiancée lives in Italy so we always have to choose a place we can both enter to be together. It’s great that we were able to release new music, a live stream and other stuff just to keep the band alive, the worst thing you can possibly do is not do. So anything is better than nothing.
The reason why we’re doing this interview today is a reissue of your third full-length “Bad Story, Happy Ending” by SBAM Records.
Yotam: I like to go for a run at the beach a few times a week, that’s where I’m able to disconnect completely from social media and think about ideas, songs and anything. It’s my time with myself, during one of the runs it occurred to me that we were slowly approaching the 20 year anniversary of “Bad Story” I told the guys that we should do the LP version for the occasion, we always wanted to release it on LP but it always fell through probably for the best, I think that 20 years for an album is a cause for a celebration especially if we’re involved, hah.
Can you share the meaning behind this album title for those who’re not familiar with your work?
Yotam: Originally, I wanted to call the album “She Mystery” since half the record dealt with this one person I was trying to get with at the time but she saw me more as a friend. So, it was either that name or “Bad Story, Happy Ending”, we ended up going with the latter and I’m glad we did. That kind of set the theme for the album even though there are a few songs in there that don’t deal with love at all, the title had to somehow give a hint of what the album was about.
Can you share the story behind the album? How have you recorded it? Also, can you share what gear you used for the gear nerds at our site?
Yotam: Kris Roe of The Ataris really helped us in the beginning especially with convincing Joe Escalante, label owner of Kung Fu Records and ¼ Vandal into signing us. We loved the sound of The Ataris “Blue Skies” album so we knew that we wanted to record at Orange Whip in Santa Barbara with Angus Cooke. Antifreeze had also signed to Kung Fu around that time and Kris Roe produced their album so when the label offered that he could be with us in the studio, we were all for it. The album was recorded analog to tape, so we didn’t have any room for edits, just better takes. What you hear on Bad Story is what we sounded like at the time. For guitars, Kris had this special Les Paul that was one of the best sounding Les Paul’s we’ve ever heard so the guys took turns using that, if I’m not mistaken through a JCM800 maybe there was another guitar involved. For bass, I used Mike Davenport’s Jazz Bass since I didn’t think my Music Man fit what we were going for.
Do you recall any funny anecdotes from the recording sessions or the time around composing/recording “Bad Story, Happy Ending”?
Yotam: Yes, our drummer Ido at the time was struggling to get the typewriter beat down the way we wanted it to be so every time I would say something about it we would get into these little studio fights, at some point Kris butted in, he would sit in the control drinking orange juice and eating chicken salad while giving Ido little tips to try playing more like Lifetime and then he would mimic the drum sounds with food flying out of his mouth, it was hysterical. This was my first time recording as the lead vocalist in a proper studio, Angus would call out “Flat..Sharp..Flat” I had no clue what he was talking about and kept singing. He wanted me to do this harmony that for the life of me I couldn’t hit a certain note, the note wasn’t high or anything it just made no sense in my then 21 year old brain. I got the hang of the whole flat and sharp game and then Angus moved onto “Uno Mas” meaning “one more”, there were a lot of those, I was inexperienced in front of the mic but I had the drive and passion to be great at it so I took the criticism lightly. Kris Roe had a show coming up with The Ataris at The House Of Blues in Anaheim opening for Social Distortion, he lost his voice and instead of cancelling, he asked me if I would sing the show, of course I agreed. I stayed up all night going over the lyrics and was taken from a studio day, the guys continued on guitars and when we got to the House Of Blues, I was greeted by one Dave Quackenbush telling me that I look like a five year old since I had just cut my hair short. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are many more fun stories. Last one, when we finished the record, we all sat together and listened back in the Jeep Angus had lent us to come to the studio and go to the motel, we looked at each other in disbelief not believing that what we would heard from the car stereo was in fact us four Israelis.
Twenty years have passed since the initial release of the beforementioned record. Have your working routine, recording process, songwriting, and composing somehow changed over the years?
Yotam: The way I used to write back then was different, for one I had just discovered that I had a knack for melodies, up until then I was writing mostly for my hardcore bands so it wasn’t the type of songs you could play on an acoustic guitar and say that it’s beautiful. At the time I was a mailman and in order to pass the time, I would hum melodies to myself, make up lyrics and do my best to remember all that once I got home since I didn’t have any tape recorder with me, just a cellphone for calls and text messages. I would then get home and demo the song right away, two guitar tracks (electric) and a vocal track, then I would have some fun with harmonies which I also discovered the magic of around the time. That was a learning experience for me and without realizing, I had 20 songs in a short time period. Nowadays, I have voice memos on my phone, hundreds of them, I’ve written many albums so I set the standard higher for myself, the guys have their standard as well so all four band members need to be excited for the tune I’m bringing or else there’s no point. I demo on Logic Pro, it enables me to mimic what I think Useless ID would do and present a finished demo to the guys later on, then everyone adds their own take of what should be, at the studio we always like to dig deep with the lyrics and look for better ways of saying things, I realized that if I do too much of that at home I feel like I drained the life out of the tune, so I leave it with the initial feeling most of the time. If the lyrics don’t come to me right away, I have this trick I do where I lay down the whole track and listen to it on repeat while singing the melody with half words, half gibberish half notes, eventually there are words and then I try to make sense of it on paper before resinging the whole thing again. It’s a great method and forces you to work instead of saying, “I don’t have a song in me today, so I’ll just chill til the muse shows up”. There’s no way around it, you don’t know when the great song will show up otherwise there wouldn’t be a magic to it, I try to sit in the wee hours when everything is quiet and the day is just about done for like 30 minutes and just improvise, write lyrics and sometimes I’ll stumble upon something.
What about your thoughts about life, society, the music industry, local/global politics…? Have your ethos changed, or have they stayed the same? Is there any difference between your way of thinking back then and now?
Yotam: Back then we didn’t have Youtube, Facebook and Instagram. Emails had started a few years earlier so we were already doing that so it made everything much harder but nowadays there’s so much competition going on, you could have one guy on the road for 20 years moving in a snail’s pace and another uploading a tictoc video and becoming a sensation. When aspiring artists ask me stuff like “How will I be known? Or say that they want to be on the radio, I tell them not to worry about that, you can start by writing songs and getting better at that, if your song connects with the masses, it’s out of your reach and your wish will come true but if that doesn’t happen at least you followed your heart and passion and put out some gold nuggets in this giant mediocre pile. As for life, I’m optimistic and positive, I’ve spent many years in depression and self hate that there’s no time or room for that in my life anymore. I find happiness in the little things, the little moments and that to me is everything. It’s about overcoming the obstacles and not getting sucked into them.
Can you reveal what you guys and SBAM Records are preparing for your fans this time? Any eye-peeling variants or deluxe packaging of “Bad Story, Happy Ending”? What should the Useless ID fans expect from this reissue?
Yotam: First of all, we got rid of the 30 second feedback in the middle of the album which just killed the flow of the record, Jason Livermore of The Blasting Room remastered the album so it sounds as fresh as it would sound had it been released today. We stayed in touch with Angus here and there over the years so it was awesome when he sent me the original mixes so Jason could work off that. Aside from that, I started posting videos from our first time in Japan or opening for Lagwagon at The Palladium in front of 4000 people, people are digging these videos, it may lead to something in the future, who knows.
Are there any plans to reissue the entire Useless ID discography in the future? What’s coming up next for Useless ID and your solo career? Any new material on the way, or maybe a possible European tour?
Yotam: At the moment we just have “No Vacation From The World” not on vinyl, maybe we’ll save that for a 2023 release since 2022 we’re hoping to be busy again and have a new record out. My new album is in the final art stages at the moment so I’m hoping to have that out by early next year. At the moment the songs we do have for the next Useless ID record are another little step in another direction but not too far off what we do or have been doing, it’s funny we don’t have any two albums that sound alike but it always sounds like Useless ID.
What’s currently spinning at your turntable/Spotify? Any albums, tunes, songs you would like to recommend?
Yotam: I love The Wildhearts, I recently discovered them and listening to a lot of that. The album I coproduced with Fat Mike for The Last Gang came out great, listening to that too. I dig the new Turnstile GLOW ON, that’s a powerful one. Down By Law’s “Lonely Town” is probably one of their best.
That’s it! Thank you so much for your time. Any words of wisdom you would like to share with your fans/readers of our site?
Yotam: I know that times are hard and the world is a crazy place right now, but we’ll get through this as well. Be safe my friends and I can’t wait to see all of you again. Thank you.